Representative Howard Berman of California called his bipartisan, multi-ethnic-supported bill “very unusual” considering the alliance sponsoring, but it really is not. His allies are of Lebanese descent, and include Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.). The four congressman, two Democrats and two Republicans, who are also one Jew and three Lebanese, just proposed a law based on the laws passed against funding the Palestinian Authority after the elections Hamas won in 2006. This time around, the bill targets Lebanon and its new government, which includes Hezbollah as a participant.
Lebanon has a much more complicated history with Israel than its Arab neighbors. Lebanese Christians, mainly the Maronite Catholics have had financial and military contact with Israel for decades. Before Israeli independence, the Jews of the British Mandate had business connections in Lebanon. During the Lebanese Civil War, Israel intervened in favor of Christian militias and the mostly Christian Southern Lebanese Army aligned with the IDF during and after its 1982 invasion.
Often times the two groups’ enemies dovetailed. The PLO, the Syrians and then Hezbollah at various times all fought Christian groups. In 1984, Israel used its muscle to push a treaty through the Lebanese parliament – though that isn’t to say many Lebanese wouldn’t have gone along with it without Israeli or American pressure.
The point put simply is that the communities have strong ties in the Middle East, and the resentment many Christians have for Hezbollah has translated into support for even the most hardline Israeli policies toward Hezbollah and consequently Lebanon.
The New York Times, in an important article I can still remember from 2006 off the top of my head, characterized Lebanese Americans’ approach to the Middle East through the eyes of the most wealthy, active business leaders of Lebanese extraction in the United States. The two men featured had sharp views toward Hezbollah and even sharper influence in the world of international finance. The Lebanese experience, putting aside politics for a moment, is very much parallel to and reflective of the Jewish experience.
But that could just be shaking off dust. In 2008, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr, according to Wikileaks, a Greek Orthodox Christian, told the United States that:
“One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hezbollah out of these areas,” said the memo, referring to the border region in southern Lebanon patrolled by UN peacekeepers.
“Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas,” Murr is cited as saying.
That does not mean Israel will have a blank check to do what it wants in Lebanon. The casualties of 2006, even if it were said a good chunk were fighters, caused many Lebanese Christians to shiver.
In short, Jews and Lebanese Christians (other Lebanese denominations also) have between them the elements of an alliance of convenience. The two groups will likely have both financial and political reasons to work together in the Middle East and in the two communities’ diasporas for years to come. Berman was wrong to say his alliance was “very unusual.” On the contrary, it is merely very dormant.